Question: I’m a copywriter. What on earth does a “sales pipeline” have to do with me?
Release your resistance and listen. The key to every successful business is revenue. Without money coming in, there is no business. A copywriter with no money coming in, may still be a copywriter. A very hungry copywriter. The key to getting money coming in the door, and continuing to come in the door, and continuing to come in the door (yes, I said that twice), so that you are not only not hungry but actually comfortable and thriving, is a healthy sales pipeline.
THAT is what a sales pipeline has to do with you.
What Is a Sales Pipeline?
A sales pipeline is a visual analogy to help you see where your sales (i.e., new business, i.e., MONEY) are coming from, and how close each client or potential new client is to resulting in a new sale.
In short, your pipeline represents everything that happens between when you identify someone as a potential prospect, and when they become a client (actually, it extends a little farther than that, as you’ll see).
Understanding your pipeline, and how to move prospects from one stage to the next, lies at the heart of maintaining a good, steady flow of cash into your bank account. In the sales industry, every expert and almost every salesperson defines the stages of their pipeline a little differently. In this article, we’ll examine a simple pipeline structure that works well for most copywriters.
The Copywriter’s Pipeline
Every sales pipeline looks a little different, but most copywriters find the one I use to be useful to them as well. It consists of 7 main stages, plus one extra stage that you will occasionally encounter. The 7 main stages are:
In some cases, your clients may move into an unpleasant but sometimes unavoidable 8th stage:
Here’s what you need to know about each stage. For help filling each of the main stages with prospects and clients, download the Command Copywriter’s Quick Start Guide.
During the “prospect” stage, you are identifying people with whom you would like to be connected. You may keep a list of them, or you may move immediately to the “connect” stage as you identify each one.
Prospects do not yet know that they are a prospect, although they may have seen that you’ve checked out their LinkedIn profile.
During the “connect” stage, you are sending out LinkedIn connection requests, and receiving acceptances. You will keep a list of those you have sent requests to, as well as those who have accepted.
Prospects in this stage know that you have attempted to connect with them. They will accept, reject, or ignore.
During the “meet” stage, you are requesting meetings (coffees, calls, and/or interviews) with those who have accepted your LinkedIn connection requests. You will also schedule and conduct meetings with everyone who accepts.
Prospects in this stage are becoming familiar with your communication style. They may be concerned that you will try to hard sell them, or they may eagerly look forward to meeting you, or anything in between.
During the “nurture” stage, you have connected or met with a prospect or contact, and determined that they are not ready yet for your services. Nevertheless, you will continue to nurture the relationship by keeping up with their birthdays, holidays, and job changes. A simple and effective way to do this is to check your LinkedIn notifications a few times a week, and respond with a personal note to each notification concerning your prospects. For high value or otherwise warm connections, you can catch up in other ways. Check in periodically about shared interests, news articles in their industry, or anything else that strikes you as likely to interest them.
Prospects in this stage are familiar with you, they appreciate your non-aggressive approach, and they are generally open to getting to know you better or, more importantly, you getting to know them better.
During the “propose” stage, you have had a meeting with a prospect, and determined that they may be ready for your services. You will ask them the questions on the “sales call” list (join the next Command Copywriter Boot Camp for access to this list) about their audience, purpose, and the scope of the project (or you may have already done this during your initial meeting). You will determine that they have an appropriate budget. And you will propose to them a solution that serves their needs.
Prospects in this stage are actively seeking your services and very interested in whether your proposal will meet their needs. They may be considering other service providers, or staying with their current solution. They want to know whether you have understood their needs and whether you are the right person to serve them.
During the “consider” stage, your prospect has a proposal in front of them and they may be passing it around to additional stakeholders, asking you questions, or simply mulling over the proposal. You will have asked them when you should follow up, and until then, you will sit on your hands (ahem, I mean you will be getting more prospects into your pipeline!). At the appointed time, if you have not heard from them, you will follow up. You may also negotiate the terms of the proposal during this time, if the prospect wishes to do so.
During this stage, prospects are in a heightened state of awareness of you and your services, and they are actively evaluating the fit for their needs.
During the “grow/continue” stage, your client is receiving or has received services from you. Your goal is to increase and/or continue the services you provide to them. You will be actively consulting with them on a regular basis to evaluate how your work is or is not helping them, and how you can help them more. As opportunities and needs arise, you will regularly propose additional services in order to provide them with more value.
During this stage, clients are actively working with you, continuously learning more about the ways you can help them, and evaluating opportunities that you present for working together more.
Clients in the “rescue/divest” stage are unhappy for some reason, or you are unhappy with them (or both!). It is time to either rescue the situation by finding a way to make both you and them happy, or divest yourself of a troublesome client. The sooner you notice signs of trouble and address them, the better. You can begin a “rescue” operation by simply asking the client to be honest with you about your performance and what is working and not working for them. If you can and want to, you can work to improve the areas they identify. In some cases, it may be more trouble than it’s worth or the client may be the problem. In that case, you will find a graceful way to exit the situation.
During this stage, clients are unhappy and possibly angry. They will appreciate your non-confrontational efforts to understand what has gone awry and to address it in a non-emotional manner.
Work Your Pipeline
Your pipeline lies at the heart of your business. When it is healthy, your finances will be healthy. When it is struggling, you will struggle (if not now, then soon).
I recommend that you work with your pipeline weekly, especially in the early stages of your business, and any time that you want to increase your revenue. Using a pipeline worksheet can make it easy to evaluate the health of your pipeline and to develop a plan for improving it. Want a copy of mine? Send me a note or connect with me on LinkedIn (be sure to mention it in your connection request), and I’ll send it to you for free.